Literary Names from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
By K. W. Colyard
With a spot atop Amazon’s bestseller list and Hulu’s faithful adaptation of the novel recently hitting the small screen, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is all anyone can talk about in 2017, so now is the perfect time to think about all the great baby names we can glean from this speculative-fiction masterpiece. Check out the literary baby names from The Handmaid’s Tale I’ve selected for you below.
When the women gather to help Ofwarren deliver her baby, the Handmaid next to Offred tells her that her name is Alma, and offers to provide any information she can find on the whereabouts of a third woman: Offred’s best friend, Moira. Perhaps fittingly, the Latin Alma translates to “nurturing,” or “soul.” Alma is a vintage name that is beginning to come back; it’s currently at Number 686 in the US, a Top 50 name in Sweden, Norway and Spain.
One of two Marthas assigned to serve Commander Fred Waterford, Cora respects Offred’s privacy and autonomy more than many other characters in the novel. Also the name of Downton Abbey’s beloved matriarch, this Greek name has experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. In 2015, Cora reached the Number 88 spot, breaking the Top 100 for the first time in over 100 years.
The epilogue identifies Offred’s Commander as Frederick Waterford, but he usually just goes by Fred. A German name meaning “peaceful ruler,” Frederick has been a Top 1000 staple in the U.S. for quite a while. It’s more popular in England, however, where it took the Number 76 spot in 2015.
Offred and Nick’s daughter goes unnamed in Margaret Atwood’s novel, but the Hulu series adaptation calls her Hannah: a nice, biblical name, in keeping with The Handmaid’s Tale’s Judeo-Christian inspiration. Since 2014, Hannah has ranked among the Top 100 baby names in the U.S., England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.
This Latin month name inspired by the goddess Juno is only mentioned once in The Handmaid’s Tale, during a sequence at the Red Center in which the Handmaids share their names from before. It’s the only one of those names that isn’t given to another character later in the novel, leaving many readers to conclude that Offred’s original name was June. A Top 1000 name for girls since it resurfaced in 2008, June currently sits at the Number 280 spot for the U.S.
Before she became a Handmaid, Offred was married to Luke, the father of her daughter, but the little family was separated after they were caught trying to flee into Canada. Like Hannah above, Luke is both a biblical name and wildly popular throughout the English-speaking world, taking Top 100 spots in the U.S., England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia.
One of the Red Center’s most vicious Aunts, Lydia certainly didn’t win any fans for her treatment of the Handmaids. However, Atwood gave her villain a beautiful name that was also the choice of Jane Austen, Ray Bradbury, and Wilkie Collins, among others. In the U.S., Lydia is a Top 1000 staple that took the Number 81 spot in 2015.
Offred’s best friend from the time before, Moira rebels against the new government and its rules. She escapes the Red Center on numerous occasions, and encourages Offred and the other Handmaids to keep themselves together, even in the face of extraordinary oppression. This Scots-Irish take on Mary hasn’t been in the Top 1000 since 1968, which means it’s primed for a comeback.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Nick is Commander Fred’s Guardian: a bodyguard-slash-driver who might just be a spy. He’s also Offred’s lover and confidante, although readers learn very little about his origins. A longtime Top 1000 staple, Nick dropped off the map after 2009, but the longer Nicholas and Dominick sat at Number 62 and Number 318, respectively, in 2015.
The older of Commander Fred’s Marthas, Rita resents Offred’s special status and treatment as a Handmaid. In the Hulu series, Rita is the only Martha in the household, and is a composite of the two domestic servants in the novel. Although Rita remains a popular choice in Portugal and England, this Spanish name meaning “pearl” hasn’t ranked in the U.S. since 2002.
In her past life, Commander Fred’s wife was a gospel singer named Serena Joy. In the novel, she’s a battle-hardened chain-smoker who knows how to get exactly what she wants, and wields more power than the new society generally allots to its women. The Latin Serena has climbed the charts since 1961, reaching Number 411 in 2015. The word name Joy wasn’t far behind, taking the Number 436 spot that same year.
Let us know what you think about these names in the comments; and you can find K.W. Colyard on Twitter!
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on May 8th, 2017 at 11:01 pm
I love Moira, but my husband hates it for some reason.
on May 9th, 2017 at 7:09 am
on May 9th, 2017 at 8:16 am
The book is 32 years old. I think the statute of limitations is expired on “spoilers.”
on May 9th, 2017 at 8:19 am
I love, love, love Lydia! I don’t care if the reference is good or bad. I love Lydia that much.
on May 9th, 2017 at 11:29 am
^ Agree with beynotce!
I love Lydia, and I don’t think “Handmaid’s Tale” will spoil it for me. June feels very fresh!
on May 9th, 2017 at 11:40 pm
I like Moira and Rita
on May 10th, 2017 at 5:14 am
I agree with Maple10, this post should warn of spoilers! Even though the book is 30 years old, there will be a whole new generation now who may not have read the book and so are experiencing this story for the first time!
on May 10th, 2017 at 5:27 am
PS I love Cora, June, Lydia and Serena Joy ☺
on May 11th, 2017 at 1:39 pm
Why taint these names with this book/tv show? PS id also be more interested in names like Offred versus a list of pretty common names.
on June 18th, 2017 at 7:50 pm
The names like Offred and Ofwarren basically mean “property of (man’s name)” as each handmaid takes on the name of the master of the house. So Offred is the handmaid for Fred. There is also an Ofcharles in the book (which is where I finally made the connection!) The Of-names show how much men control their lives – another example of how names can represent the culture they derive from.
I still love the names Frederick and Lydia, though. I agree, the book doesn’t taint these names at all. 🙂
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